Just good business. 6:5-9


From 5:21 to 6:9 Paul deals with the issue of mutual submission between husbands and wives, children and parents, slaves and masters. In the section before us he deals with the responsibilities of slaves and masters. The whole section is held together by the exhortation "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ", 5:21. Instead of insisting on our own way, believers should consider the interests of others, Christ being the pattern for such self-giving, cf. Phil.2:3-8.

The passage

v5. Paul encourages servants to obey their masters with "fear and trembling". The phrase is often used in the scriptures of respect toward God. So, Paul is simply saying that Christian servants should respect their masters. This respect is given "as to Christ", that is, it is given to the master as if it were being given to Christ. This is a rather strange idea, but as Rudolf Schnackenburg explains it, "the earthly masters do not stand in Christ's place, but to serve them is understood as a service for Christ." This service must be done "with sincerity of heart." The Bible commentator J.B. Lightfoot said that the phrase means "with undivided service", ie. without divided loyalties.

v6. The servant is not to serve their master as a "man-pleaser". Such a person works hard in the master's gaze, but slacks when out of sight. In contrast, the servant should work "heartily" - from the heart.

v7. This service "as to Christ" develops a "wholehearted" approach to service in general such that it is no longer drudgery. The servant will develop a "ready good will, which does not wait to be compelled", J.A. Robinson.

v8. Paul goes on to remind his readers, whether "slave or free", of something they know well. Christian service is rewarded, just as unfaithfulness is punished. This Biblical principle comes from Christ who said that on his return "he will render to everyone according to what he has done", Matt.16:27. This principle applies even to our work-ethic. The concept of reward is an interesting one. Clearly it is not the reward of salvation, since salvation is a gift of God's grace appropriated through faith. Leon Morris explains the reward this way: "the reward will be appropriate. The slave must not expect that the exact deed will be done to him as he has done to someone else, but he can rely on God to act justly."

v9. As for masters, they are to respond toward their servants "in the same way." That is, they are to apply the same principles of Christian concern toward their servants, a "spirit of integrity, dedication and goodwill", Harold Hoehner. This will involve not "threatening" them, not bullying them. It will also involve not showing "favoritism". Masters are reminded that they have a Master in heaven and he doesn't show favoritism between "slave or free."

Employees and employers

The wide acceptance of economic rationalism has resulted in a dog-eat-dog mentality in the business community. All that matters is "the bottom line", profit. Social equity, "a fair days pay for a fair day's work", is no longer of any interest to management. Reward is now given, not because of skill or effort, but rather on the capacity to scam, lie, cajole...... Marketing, selling, is what it's all about. The product itself is marketed, not on value, but rather on the basis of what the market can bear. Little reward is seen in the finished product. Profit is what matters, and so success is rated on the profit level alone. "How much did it make", that's what matters.

Economic rationalism, or "the bottom line", abandons Biblical ethics and moves away from the "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" ethic that was once accepted practice in Western countries. Sadly, even those political parties on the left of the political spectrum that once promoted social justice, equity, have adopted the economic god of rationalism.

Paul reminds his readers that employees should give their boss "wholehearted" service. They are not to work "to win their favor". The worker should be "sincere", showing genuine "respect" toward the boss, not servile pretence. In fact, a believer should see their effort, not so much as service to their employer, but rather as service to Christ. Very few people find fulfillment in their employment, yet a believer can find value in any form of honest work, for their work is offered to Christ. Jesus is well able to appreciate the true value of their effort, even if others don't. The knowledge of our Lord's appreciation is warming indeed.

Employers should apply the same principles toward their workers. Dehumanizing work, practices which degrade the employee, which are demeaning, are not to be used. There should be no favoritism. The "master" needs always to remember that he has a heavenly "Master".

This new century cries out for a new compact between employer and employee, a new compact based on very old principles.


1. Consider the issue of slavery. Given that it is a social evil, why is Paul content only to regulate it?

2. Discuss present work and management practices in light of the Biblical principles found in this passage.

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